The Least Romantic Embrace

My right foot has been in a lot of things:  shoes with external coils, shoes with internal springs, shoes that aren’t cool enough for my grandma, walking boots, aircasts, various types of braces, deep sh*t…

The next few posts will discuss different types of ankle braces, the pros and cons to each, and my personal experience with them.  If you would like to read about shoes, please see the archives.

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BRACE OF THE DAY:  ARIZONA BRACE (CUSTOM FIT)

This brace hails from — you guessed it — Arizona.  It is a rigid brace with a leather exterior and a lace-up tying system that is eerily similar to a corset.  It prevents most foot motion by stabilizing the ankle, talocalcaneal, mid-tarsal, and subtalar joints while allowing the toes to wiggle.

Pros:  Reduced pain in affected joints because they are not moving.  Looks odd but tends to conjure up pleasant images of horseback riding and the Victorian era.  Durable.  Lace-up system is quick and effective.

Cons: Looks odd to people who are not familiar with the Victorian era (or who see no place for representations of it in the 21st century), which can lead to questioning or awkward stares.   The brace limits mobility to such an extent that after a short amount of time, the affected foot can start to ache.  Furthermore, the brace alters the user’s gait and subsequently can cause problems in other areas of the body, especially the opposite knee and the upper back.

My experience:  When I first received my Arizona Brace (AB), I was hopeful:  I could walk 8 or 10 blocks instead of the usual 4 or 5.  I had to purchase two new pairs of shoes (the brace is so bulky that it requires a larger shoe size…if anyone wants a 9 and a 9.5 of the same shoe, let me know), which was irksome.  The expense seemed worth it until I began to develop strain and pain in other parts of my body.  After a few weeks wearing the brace, my whole body was a wreck.  I realized that because I had to take out the shoe insole in order to accommodate the girth of the brace, my right foot was lower to the ground than the left one.  This mismatch explained the pervasive body aches.  A shoemaker used mega glue to adhere a Vibram sole to the right shoe.  While my feet are now at the same height, I still experience discomfort, though to a much lesser extent than before the shoe alteration.

Because the AB is so good at immobilization, the body must compensate for the lost motion.  But no matter how hard the knees and hips work to move the foot, the wearer ends up shuffling because it is impossible to bend enough for a natural step.  It is nearly impossible to go down a flight of stairs in this brace.  But it’s been done.  Many times.  Whether you land on your feet or ass at the end is debatable.

Overall impression:  A good brace to use intermittently for short periods of time.  Excellent to wear in a shoe when not weight bearing (for example, when typing up a paper or writing a blog post) because it prevents the user from the “micro movements” that result from mindless foot fidgeting.

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